In a July, 2017 article (How the Left Can Win in the South) that popped up in my Facebook feed, Paul Blest offers some basic principles to help progressives build power in the South. He starts off by describing the struggles of the Bernie Sanders campaign during the 2016 democratic primary in which Hillary Clinton received twice as many votes as Sanders in the southern states.
“For unions in deep trouble, straining to find a way forward in today’s reality of runaway corporate profits and mounting human impoverishment, the Sea-Tac experience points the way toward the great possibilities that exist in a reimagined labor movement.” – Jonathan Rosenblum
Over the past several decades with the decline of manufacturing and the worsening of labor law, organized labor in the United States has experienced a critical decrease in numbers and clout, begging the question: Can labor rebuild its strength in a period characterized by continuing de-industrialization and an increasingly hostile environment for organizing workers?
The COP23 climate meetings in Bonn two weeks ago provided a welcome opportunity for climate change to make it into public discussion. But the meetings themselves could not accomplish much. The value of the international framework–the Paris accord–was never in the text of the agreements themselves, which did not come close to getting the international community to commit to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, let alone 1.5 degrees C, which was mentioned as the better objective. The value of the Paris agreement was the international consensus–now partially broken by the Trump administration–about the pressing need to take big steps towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades.
Last week, I wrote about two new publications published to coincide with the COP23 in Bonn that highlight the lack of progress in reducing global CO2 emissions. Adding to the grim picture, Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic (“Democrats Are Shockingly Unprepared to Fight Climate Change”) investigates the state of play among the democrats in Washington, the only major political force in the US that would seem to have the potential to take on the republican environment-destroyers. It’s a longish article that provides much useful detail about the politics that frame democratic options and decision making. Meyer’s findings are as bleak as the articles I mentioned yesterday and point to the same conclusion: the change we need will not come from our political system without massive grassroots intervention. Let’s start with his argument.
Two articles at The Nation give progressives reasons to cheer about the 2017 elections and the prospects for 2018. In “Democratic Socialism Is Having a Very Good Year at the Ballot Box,” John Nichols writes about Lee Carter, a democratic socialist who defeated Jackson Miller, the incumbent Republican Whip in the House of Delegates by 9 points. Nichols writes that Carter’s win actually “unsettled” many of the state’s democrats because he ran against corporate interests as well as Dominion Energy, which is trying to run a natural gas pipeline across Virginia. Dominion Energy has supported many democrats in Virginia. What is even more encouraging is that Carter clearly won this race against a deep-pocketed conservative without support from the democratic party, at least the national apparatus of the DNC.
As the COP23 international climate conference opened in Bonn Monday, two new reports lend urgency to global climate change trends, particularly concerning the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere. At the conference itself, the Washington Post reports on a paper about carbon dioxide emissions that poured cold water on the hope that these emissions had peaked and started to decline. After flatlining for three years, CO2 emissions in 2017 appear to be on the way to a 2 percent increase (give or take 1%), which would make this year’s emissions the largest on record.
Are liberals and progressives finally building grassroots organizations that can mobilize voters and win elections? The 2017 results strongly suggest the answer is yes.
In an important article back in January, political science professor Theda Skocpol argued that successful electoral performance is based to significant degree on strong local-level political institutions. She observed that the current democratic party is organizationally quite weak in comparison with the GOP. In the past, when unions were much stronger and more numerous than they are now, they had a continuous presence in many communities, particularly working class communities, all over the country. With stable memberships, full-time staff, and substantial resources, the unions could reliably turn out voters for democratic candidates up and down the ticket.
In a recent op-ed in the Roanoke Times, activist and organic farmer Anthony Flaccavento argues that Democrats must pay a lot more attention to rural America if they hope to rebuild the party. It is a startling proposition, if only because it rarely gets articulated, but one that should be a central part of a progressive agenda in 2018 and beyond. It also takes aim at the stale debate in democratic and progressive circles about whether the party should “lean to the center” to try to appeal to imagined swing voters, including the so-called “white working class,” or aim instead to “energize the base.”
To mark Labor Day, professors WIlliam E. Forbath and Brishen Rogers published an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that labor law should be an important political objective in rejuvenating worker activism. Although labor unions overall are in a state of decline, there is significant activism pushing for raising minimum wages–for example Fight for $15–and related efforts to support workers. And in urban areas and some economic sectors, there are still a significant number of unionized workers, while at the same time workers in other industries are attempting to organize. This activity is important for unions of course, but it is also important for working people and the middle class in general because unions have always played crucial roles in progressive movements. That is why business elites and their allies in government have consistently worked to undermine them. Per Forbath and Rogers: “Without a rejuvenated labor movement, it’s almost inconceivable that breakthrough reforms will come to pass.”
The failed attempts by the republicans in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) have yielded some surprising results. The process itself spurred many Americans to pay close attention to health care policy and to republican shenanigans. In the end, instead of sneaking the legislation through quickly with minimal deliberation, conservative senators and representatives were confronted by firestorms of opposition at town hall meetings. Press coverage and continued protests have kept the issue alive.
Even more consequential, as a result of the awful bills put forward (and passed in the House), there has been a shift in public opinion toward the view that everyone has a right to affordable health insurance. Polling has found increasing support for single payer or Medicare for all laws. In addition, many governors, including republican governors, actively opposed the repeal legislation, because of what it would do to Medicaid and the prospect that large numbers of their constituents would lose insurance. And if we consider GOP claims about the legislation–dishonest as they were–that it would improve healthcare and reduce costs for everyone, it is clear they had no choice but to play this game on a field where healthcare for all was a basic ground rule.